County Council activities update

Chris Wilson, County Council Chairman

When I last served as County Council Chairman several years ago, I wrote a periodic update to address the issues facing Bamberg County and the activities of Council. I found it helpful to keep people updated and involved and also helpful to put thoughts and ideas in writing.

Like most private and public entities, Bamberg County has been greatly affected by the struggling economy and the “Great Recession.” Our revenues, including tax collections, are down significantly since 2010. We have gone the last several years without significantly raising millage, but we must have revenues to continue to provide essential services. Otherwise, we are faced with cutting services.

We are making changes in the County’s finances. We must borrow money, adjust our cash flow management, and make cuts to our Budget mid-year and in future years. We are borrowing $1.1 million in a G. O. Bond which will necessitate a 2.5 mill increase. We will have to make service reductions until our revenues increase so that our expenditures do not continue to exceed our revenues. This will be difficult, but necessary, to ensure the long-term operations of the County.

Despite the difficult times, we have made progress over the last few years in a number of areas. We anticipate that the actions we have taken will result in Bamberg County being able to continue to provide essential services and be more attractive to future growth and investment. Future growth and investment are an absolute must. There are those who do not believe that Bamberg County can or ever will attract investment and growth, and those who may not want future growth, but without such growth, County government will have to continue to increase the tax burden on our citizens just to continue to provide the basic services.

We have taken steps to create a regional healthcare system with Barnwell County. This will ensure quality, stable healthcare for our citizens without a continuing tax burden on our citizens. The hospital issue has dominated the County over the past several years. Bamberg County Council and the Hospital Board have had to make very difficult decisions while being faced with the facts that the County Hospital cannot survive financially without County support and the County cannot continue to support the Hospital financially. The sale of the Hospital to Dobbs Equity should close in the next few months and result in a new hospital built near Denmark and multi-specialty clinics in Bamberg and Barnwell. While there are no perfect solutions and no absolute guarantees of what the future holds, we have made contractual arrangements that should protect the healthcare of our citizens in the future.

We have attracted some new investment, most notably the location of Masonite Corporation in Denmark. Masonite is an international corporation that has strong operations and reputation. We welcome Masonite Corporation as a Bamberg County corporate citizen and will continue to work with them on their needs. Their expectations are to invest approximately $15 million dollars and create 100+ jobs.

We continue to work with several other companies looking to locate or expand in Bamberg County. These investments are vital to our having jobs for our citizens, an attractive community, an expanded tax base, and overall stability in our County.

Over the past several years, we have taken steps to make our County more attractive for investment – residential, retail and industrial. We continue to pursue a county-wide regional water/sewer system. A countywide water/sewer system will allow for better water for our citizens, better fire service, and the ability to attract additional investment to our County. There are details to be worked out and concerns to be addressed, but this project will greatly enhance Bamberg County, and the municipalities, in their abilities to service citizens and attract investment.

Work on widening US Highway 78 between Bamberg and Denmark is proceeding. This project will result in expanded lanes leaving Bamberg and Denmark and 6 foot shoulders between Bamberg and Denmark, making this stretch of US Highway 78 much easier and safer to travel.

Because of finances, we have put on hold plans to refurbish the Courthouse and build an administrative/law enforcement complex. However, our building needs will continue to exist and must be addressed soon.

As always, I encourage you to be informed and involved in Bamberg County government. Only with the input and involvement of all of its citizens can Bamberg County become a better place to live, work and raise families.